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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 8 May

Today's questions of the day concerned: Budget Blow Out – Special Benefits – GE Cow Research – NCEA –Budget Blow Out – Cell Phones In Prisons – Community Services Card – Employment In Fishing – Violent Crime Statistics - Rural Policy – West Coast DHB Equity Injection – Adult Literacy.

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 8 May 2001

The following are paraphrases of today's questions for oral answer. They are not complete or official, the official record of Parliamentary proceedings is Hansard, which is not finalised till some days after the event.


Question 1.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Who told her that the Government's $5.9 billion fiscal cap would be exceeded, and on what date?

A: The Minister of Finance and I have discussed this matter from time to time.

Q: When was she first informed that the government would exceed its cap?

A: I have already said I have discussed this matter from time to time with the Minister of Finance. This blow out is 0.25 per cent of expenditure over the three year period. That is why no one except the opposition is too excited about it.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): When it was decided not to lift the threshold on the Community Services Card, did she know? And did she tell the Alliance?

A: I am delighted to inform the member that the two decisions were taken on the same day.

Q: Will she now answer the initial question?

A: I do not diary every discussion I have with the Minister of Finance. We meet often and discuss things often.

Q: Given that Michael Cullen knew in December, is it unreasonable that he didn’t tell everyone else?

A: The Minister of Finance keeps me closely informed at all times.

Question 2.

SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Has he received any reports suggesting that around 95% of eligible households are not receiving a special benefit; if so, what action does he intend to take to remedy the situation?

A: I have seen a release by the Wellington Downtown Ministry. The release confirms the fact that the decline in special benefit payments under the previous government has been reversed under this government.

Q: How much was paid in performance bonuses to DWI staff? And how does that compare with the money paid in unpaid special benefits?

A: There is no connection at all between special benefits and performance bonuses to DWI staff. Forecast increases in special benefits are around 40%. This shows we are paying more special benefits to people entitled to them.

Q: Is he proud of the increase in spending on special benefits?

A: I am proud to be able to say we are a fair government.

Q: Is he responsible for a large increase in welfare payments?

A: The figure in the DEFU was mainly made up of inflation adjustment. Watch the budget closely.

Question 3.

Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Minister for Crown Research Institutes Pete Hodgson:

Q: Is the real purpose of the AgResearch project involving the insertion of human genes into cows "to produce genetically engineered dairy food and have nothing to do with MS", as claimed by the Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons; if not, what is the real purpose?

A: No. The purpose of the research is not to produce GE dairy foods. The purpose is to produce proteins in milk. What they will be used for will be determined in the future.

Q: Will he give an assurance the cows will not be destroyed?

A: The cows’ fate is in the hands of the court. As for research of this nature, it is covered by ERMA and the voluntary moratorium.

Q: Is he satisfied proper procedures were followed by AgResearch?

A: Yes.

Q: Is the minister concerned that the foremost scientist in this area has decided to leave NZ in frustration?

A: Yes I am. He is a remarkable scientist and a remarkable man. There are a lot of things going on in his life, including some remarkable opportunities. However it is also the case that his decision to leave preceded the High Court decision.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimmons (Green): What evidence is there that the protein involved in this research will help MS sufferers? And what evidence is there that other means of manufacture of the protein won’t be equally effective?

A: One of the essential features of scientific research is that you do not require people to know answers before they ask questions.

Q: What is the benefit of manufacturing this in cows?

A: I am guessing, but if the protein exists in other forms then it is possible that manufacture in cows will be an efficiency advance.

Question 4.

HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What reports has he received on the Government's senior school assessment policy?

A: I have received news over the weekend that the National Party is supporting the NCEA framework. However I have also received conflicting reports about this last week. Unfortunately the two reports come from the same source. It appears that Gerry Brownlee had not been informed of the policy he would be announcing three days later.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National) Did he read all the reports? And would he like a briefing?

A: It is the last refuge of the hopeless that the member is now quoting himself.

Q: What did Professor Black from Kings College say about the NCEA?

A: He said the NCEA could make NZ a world leader in education.

Q: Does he know what ACT policy is?

A: I have seen remarkably consistent reports of ACT policy, and a damning criticism of the same from the Employers Federation.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National): Will he stop selectively quoting from Professor Black’s report? And will he acknowledge that Professor Black described the NCEA as radical?

A: I found the report very useful. It identified several key changes that have been made. I would like to say also that I am very pleased that Wyatt Creech - and not that member - was in charged of developing this system. Had he been in charge then nothing would have been achieved.

Question 5.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Was he correctly reported as stating that he did not tell his ministerial colleagues in December that the fiscal cap would need to be exceeded "because that could have signalled, if you like, an upping of the base ante in terms of negotiations with other Ministers"?

A: Like the financial markets my colleagues have not seen this as a budget blow out, but rather as a gentle exhalation.

Q: What has been the response of the markets?

A: There has been very little response the dollar went up a bit and then down a bit. Interest rates were unaffected. I note that the opposition criticise us for spending not enough money and too much money at the same time.

Q: Bill English (National): Is the minister now denying that he kept his colleagues in the dark? And how can he expect the public to trust ministers if he doesn’t trust them?

A: All ministers in this government bask in the light shone by the Prime Minister.

Question 6.

KEVIN CAMPBELL (Alliance) to the Minister of Corrections Matt Robson:

Q: What reports has he received about cell phone use in prisons?

A: I have seen an ACT Party pamphlet that says ACT will prohibit cell phone use in prisons. They are already prohibited. It appears that the party that is keen on truth in sentencing is not keen on truth in pamphlets. I am at a loss to know why.

Q: Brian Neeson (National): If that is the case, maybe the Minister would like to make a comment on a recent report in the Herald that says 99 cell phones were found in Mt Eden prison.

A: The member has just shown the effectiveness of strict measures to detect illegal cell phones in prisons.

Question 7.

Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: How does he reconcile the statement in his Community Services Card Fact Sheet that the "Government has NOT made any policy decisions that would mean working people were treated differently to beneficiaries with respect to Community Services Card eligibility" with the Minister of Health's response to question for written answer No 4440 in which she confirms that she took a paper to Cabinet seeking additional funding to increase the card threshold for all New Zealanders?

A: The issue is very clear. As a result of the CPI benefit adjustment no beneficiary or superannuitant entitled to the card has lost the entitlement.

Q: Will he amend his fact sheet so that it contains the facts, and not the spin?

A: No I like the fact sheet the way it is.

Q: What assurances has he given the PM about his competency?

A: It is clear that as a result of the Balkanisation of the public service, that the provision of advice sometimes goes awry.

Q: Is the minister pleased that he has failed twice to get assistance to low income NZers?

A: We are proud that we are about to get rid of the Jenny Shipley “poor card”?

(Roger Sowry – I think that the Minister should apologise.

Speaker – I agree.)

Question 8.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson:

Q: What is the Government doing to promote opportunities for the involvement of New Zealanders within the fishing industry?

A: It is a big industry and we are addressing key issues in it. Key issues are listed…

Q: How does selling off NZ owned ships advance opportunities for NZers to be employed in fishing? And if it doesn’t harm employment in fishing then why are these ships (listed) being sold?

A: I don’t know why Sealord is selling its ships, which ships are being sold or why. However I do know Sealord is a big company that is supported strongly by overseas shareholders, and that it is planning to increase employment by around 700 jobs . That is why the Minister of Finance and I approved the investment by Nissui. Fishing quota is now fully owned by Te Ohu Kai Moana.

Q: I am holding here a letter saying these ships are being offered for sale? Is this not proof that Japanese boats will be fishing the NZ owned quota?

A: What I am saying is that Sealord is a world integrated seafood industry company, that operates around the world, but is based in New Zealand.

Question 9.

Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:

Q: In light of the latest annual crime statistics which showed all violent offences are up 4.7%, robberies are up 12.2%, grievous assaults are up 8.8% and sexual offences are up 9.5%, why did he say in April this year that "New Zealand is a more secure place to be"?

A: Because it is. Between 1990 and 1999 there was a 77% increase in violent crime. In the year 2000 there were 10,000 fewer crimes than the previous year. That means fewer victims.

Q: Tony Ryall (National) How is the increased number of NZers being bashed, mugged and sexually violated evidence that his government’s policies are working?

A: The member is forgetting that under his government there was a 77% increase in violent crime. Later today the member will be receiving a surprise he will not like. The member ought to be thanking the police rather than grizzling and moaning all the time.

Q: (ACT): NZ is more secure than where?

A: When there are fewer burglaries there are fewer people entering serious crime. That’s what Tony Ryall says and the member ought to listen to him.

Q: Nandor Tanczos (Green): What about the waste of time involved in dealing with cannabis offences?

A: The government would be grateful if fewer NZers wanted to smoke cannabis, and if fewer people were promoting it. Then they could spend more time on serious crime.

Question 10.

DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister for Rural Affairs Jim Sutton:

Q: What reports has he received on the Government's rural initiatives?

A: I have received a report in the Marlborough Express saying the government ought to be commended. I quote a National Party office holder, “The National Party could actually learn from some of the things happening here.”

Q: Will rural affairs be funded in this budget round? And not swept into MAF?

A: Rural affairs is certainly funded. It has a dedicated and effective team working on it. I am sure they would work for free if necessary, but I will ensure that they will be paid.

Question 11.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Will the West Coast District Health Board be required to pay interest on any bridging finance it may receive as an equity injection from the Government?

A: The West Coast DHB is not seeking funding. And interest is not paid on bridging finance.

Q: Will a similar offer be made to the Lakeland Health DHB?

A: For many years equity injections have been sought from the government, and occasionally it has been granted. I have not received a request from Lakeland Health. The chair of the West Coast DHB says funding problems have been around for a long time. The problem arises in this particular case because the sale of Seaview Hospital has been delayed. I do not have a lits of equity requests or a list of expected deficits.

Q: Can she assure us that primary healthcare services will be maintained in Greymouth and Buller where two health practices are being sold?

A: I have not received any reports that they are under threat. I understand that the DHB will decide where to deliver services from.

Question 12.

DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What is the state of adult literacy?

A: (Marian Hobbs on behalf) One in five adult NZers had poor literacy skills in a recent report. Last night we launched an adult literacy strategy. We will start on increasing the numbers of tutors. We will concentrate work on those who have already shown dedication to this area of work.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National): Why has it taken 18 months to announce this? And isn’t this just a lot of hot air as it has no funding?

A: The member will need to wait for the budget. The launch was positively accepted by the sector last night.


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